Ikramul Haque, an aluminum utensils manufacturer in Chattogram's Muradpur area, joined his father's business in 1988. His father Shahid Ullah started the business in the 1970s.
Later, Ikramul expanded the business with the help of his two brothers Kamrul Haque and Alamgir Kabir. The family now owns five aluminum factories and exports their products to Myanmar. They produce 20 different types of aluminum products.
Lately, however, Ikramul's business has been suffering and he has been mulling moving the business out of Muradpur area as rent and rising gas prices have put a dent in the business. Building owners at Muradpur are now keen to raze down the factories and build high-rises in their place.
"If the government sets up a separate zone for the aluminum industry in an industrial zone, we would be greatly benefitted," said Ikramul, who is also the general secretary of the Chattogram Aluminum Industry Owners' Association.
Many aluminum factories have either shut down or relocated as the use of aluminum utensils declined because of the rise of diversified cookware made of stainless steel, plastic and ceramics. As a result, many artisans have also left the business.
Factory owner Mohammad Gias Uddin said, "Aluminum sheets are produced by melting aluminum ingots in gas furnaces. But artisans find it difficult to do this now because of the gas shortage in Chattogram. Again, because of the shortage of artisans, I sometimes have to keep the factory closed for several days at a stretch."
"As the production cost in Chattogram is much higher than elsewhere in the country, we are struggling to survive. I used to have three factories. Now, I have one," he added.
The Chattogram Aluminum Industry Owners' Association started out with 33 members in 1989. By 2010, the number of members had grown to 142. Today, there are only 80 members.
Many manufacturers joined the sector because they had the opportunity of setting up production units by investing a relatively small amount, between Tk3-4lakh until 2000. However, by 2010, the use of aluminum utensils started declining.
In 2010, aluminium factories in Chittagong produced 20,000-22,000 kilogrammes of utensils every day. At present, 15,000-16,000 kilogrammes of utensils are made every day, which is around 60 lakh kilogrammes annually. Around 5,000 people are employed in this industry in the port city.
Two crore pieces of small and big aluminum pots, pans and saucepans worth Tk180 crore are produced in Chattogram annually. Earlier, the supply from Chattogram used to meet most of the domestic demand, but products made in other districts also meet the demand at present.
Amena Begum, a homemaker in Askar Dighir Par, told The Business Standard the increased use of frying pans and rice cookers has resulted in a substantial reduction in the use of aluminum utensils.
Another homemaker Tasnim Akhter, who lives in Sholoshohor, said aluminum cooking pots wear out quite quickly.
"More and more people now use ovens and rice cookers. But aluminum pots are still used when we have to cook at home on big occasions," she added.
Muradpur area is known as 'Aluminum area' to local people. Established in 1958, Khalil Metal was the first aluminum factory in Muradpur. Many others later set up factories, contributing to the expansion of the industry.
Ikramul said his father started the business by investing only Tk2 lakh back in 1976.
"Later, my father set up Shahid Aluminum Industry in the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation area in Feni. He is now managing operations there," he added.
In the factories, female workers wash the newly-made utensils and children dry them.
Khadiza Begum, whose job is to wash the products, said, "We start work at 8am. We get paid Tk180-220 to wash 500-600 utensils every day."
Mohammad Mahfuz, an artisan, said, "I have been working in this trade for 19 years. Production used to be high before, but now it has declined. Again, as new artisans are not entering this trade, our workload is also high."
Aluminum industrialists in the area said they export goods worth around Tk12 crore annually. The main export markets are Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.